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Travel quarantine rules: employers questions answered

The government has, controversially, imposed quarantine measures for people entering the UK by plane, ferry or train. These rules apply to both UK residents and visitors coming into the UK and will impact on UK businesses in a number of ways.

1. What areas or countries are excluded from the rules?

You don't have to quarantine if you're travelling to the UK from the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Nor do you have to quarantine if you are travelling within the UK, such as to/from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

2. How long do you have to quarantine?

You must remain in your home or place you're staying for the first 14 days from your arrival in the UK but you can use public transport to travel to the place where you're quarantining. Once at home, you can't go to work, send your children to school or go out for any reason. This means that you'll have to ask friends and neighbours to shop for you.

Quarantine starts as soon as you arrive in the UK and ends 14 days later or when you leave the country (if that's earlier). 

3. Does everyone entering the UK have to self-isolate?

No. There's a long list of exceptions which are set out in Guidance: travellers exempt from border rules in the UK. Please note that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own rules. 

In relation to business, the most relevant apply to:

  • Travellers from within the Common Travel Area (Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Isles) - unless they arrived into one of these areas from outside it in the previous 14 days
  • UK residents who ordinarily travel overseas at least once a week for work (and those who live outside the UK but travel at least once a week to the UK to work).
  • Drivers of goods vehicles (such as long distance lorry drivers), public service vehicles and people who can drive coach and buses overseas
  • Seasonal agricultural workers if they self isolate where they are working
  • Workers with specialist technical skills for essential or emergency works - to ensure the continued production, supply, movement, manufacture, storage or preservation of goods
  • Workers with specialist technical skills to deal with emergency or essential works - such as gas, electricity, waste management
  • Medical and care workers providing essential healthcare 

4. What information do you have to provide when entering the UK?

Everyone travelling to the UK has to complete a public health passenger locator form before they arrive in the UK and will have to show this at the border. This sets out information about their journey and contact details.

5. Can UK citizens travel abroad at the moment?

The UK government is still advising British Nationals against all but essential travel.

Most foreign destinations have said they are keen to welcome tourists back, but rules and approaches vary. For example, France has said that anyone coming from the UK will be asked to self quarantine for 14 days and Greece has said that UK tourists aren't welcome at the moment. But, UK citizens can fly to Portugal and will be allowed to enter provided they do not have a temperature or show signs of being unwell. 

The government has said that it wants to open international travel corridors - so called "air bridges" to allow citizens from certain countries to travel without the need to quarantine. 

6. Can we ask our staff to continue to work during quarantine?

That will depend on whether they can work from home and you are happy for them to do so. However, if they can't work from home, you must not ask them to return to their workplace and must immediately send them home if they turn up. 

Anyone who doesn't self isolate, will commit a criminal offence and can be fined £1,000.

7. Do we have to pay anyone who has to self quarantine?

In most cases, if someone cannot return to work (and can't work from home) they aren't entitled to be paid. However, if you've sent someone abroad for business purposes, they'll be very miffed (and could resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal) if you don't pay them - even if they can't work properly from home when they get back.  

Anyone who self quarantines and does not have coronavirus symptoms isn't entitled to SSP. Therefore, as things currently stand, if one of your employees decides to take a punt on going abroad on holiday, they would have to take two weeks unpaid leave on their return (unless they take additional paid holiday) which would be prohibitively expensive for many people.

8. Can we tell staff not to go abroad on holiday?

You can't normally dictate what your employees do in their own time, much less tell them where they can go on holiday. But you can discourage them from going on holiday abroad by making it clear they will have to follow quarantine advice and won't be paid during this time. Bear in mind though, that some people will have booked their holidays pre-lockdown and may decide to go if they can, even if they have to quarantine afterwards.

9. Can we cancel holiday leave we’ve already authorised to prevent staff travelling abroad?

In most cases, yes – but there are some risks attached. If the contract of employment or your holiday policy sets out how to cancel holiday, you must follow that. If there are no express provisions, the Working Time Regulations provide a mechanism for employers to cancel leave. Under Regulation 15(2)(b) you must give as much notice as the leave you want to cancel. Therefore, you if want to cancel two weeks’ leave you have to give two weeks’ written notice. You’ll need to explain to your staff why you have cancelled their holiday and tell them when and how they can re-book. 

Cancelling holiday at short notice is likely to be unpopular. If workers have made travel or other plans they may ask you to compensate them for any cancellation charges they incur. They could also argue that you are acting unreasonably and are in breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence, which gives them the right to resign and claim constructive dismissal (they’ll need two years’ service). 

10. How long will the rules remain in place?

The government has said that it will review these rules around 29 June. A number of airlines have launched a legal challenge against the policy and have argued that quarantine measures for travellers are more stringent than those applied to people who actually have coronavirus. 

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